Jurgen Klopp has caught some flak for his summer’s spending. Having declared his intention to do things ‘differently’, he stands accused now of conforming to football’s modern realities. Witness the flurry of social media activity which has followed Liverpool’s recruitment over the past few weeks, note its tone, and sift through the many, many memes.
Rival supporters certainly love an apparent hypocrisy, but in this instance it’s difficult to know from where this confected outrage draws its energy. If anything, Klopp should have been teased for his original naivety – for his belief that, in this day and age, money doesn’t talk in the Premier League and that the title isn’t just a reward for those willing to dig deepest into their bulging pockets. If anything, he was initially guilty of over-estimating his own abilities – of believing that the merits of his ideology could over-power the modern realities of the game. Spending, he seemed to say, was only for those incapable of more creative solutions.
Mock him for that, not this.
So, it’s a strange movement to rationalise. What is Klopp supposed to do? So far this off-season, Fabinho and Alisson Becker have become available, as Naby Keita did a year ago, and Liverpool have had the means to sign all of them. Flip that around though and consider it from a different perspective: had Klopp declined any of those opportunies on the sole basis of some ideological commitment, he would – perhaps quite rightly – have been a laughing stock. A laughing stock who, eventually, would have been headed for the unemployment line.
Crucially, it’s also important not to conflate one summer of heavy spending with the decade-long procurement strategies elsewhere in the league. What Liverpool have done over these past few weeks would, at Stamford Bridge, The Etihad or Old Trafford, count as a fairly average summer. That’s a very obvious point to make, it’s hardly an original observation, and yet Liverpool’s attempt to better conform has created this faux-incredulity. Elsewhere in the league, Jose Mourinho has been provoked to an incredulous rage by Ed Woodward’s refusal to provide him with more than £80m worth of reinforcements over the off-season and, twelve months ago, Antonio Conte was driven to self-sabotage by Chelsea’s inhibiting use of nearly £150m. The grievance with Klopp is strange, then. Everything always looks good in pre-season, admittedly, but Liverpool look to have spent wisely and well.
Is the need for cackling recourse really so urgent as to need to point and laugh at well-directed funds?
It brings to mind that line from Apocalypse Now when Captain Willard is musing over the ridiculousness of charging Colonel Kurtz with murder. In this instance – yes – accusing a manager of trying to buy the title is like handing out speeding tickets at the Daytona 500. Whether it’s something supporters want to acknowledge or not, winning the Premier League is now really just a reward for being willing to write the largest cheque; show me a manager committed to a “different way” and, invariably, I’ll be able to show you a team who are doing well, but who are nonetheless ending their seasons without tangible reward.
So what does anybody expect? You get what you pay for now. Nothing more.
It’s very noble to attempt growth through more organic methods, but it’s a very false sort of glory – it’s a moral victory at best, the sort which comes with warm feelings and memories rather than actual silverware. Arsene Wenger has just finished spending the last decade proving what a thankless pursuit that is. Given that precedent, it would be ludicruous for Jurgen Klopp to believe that anything other than cold, hard cash is sufficient to compete with the limitless budgets elsewhere.
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